Hector Beltran Leyva, remaining kingpin of a once-powerful and increasingly troublesome family-run drug cartel, was captured Wednesday in central Mexico, authorities announced.
Beltran Leyva was taken into custody by army forces "without a shot fired" as he dined in a seafood restaurant in the popular tourist town of San Miguel de Allende, said Tomas Zeron, head of the criminal investigations agency of the federal attorney general's office. The town, in Guanajuato state, is a magnet for American and Canadian expatriates.
Several tests were conducted to confirm his identity, Zeron said at a news conference, adding that the fugitive trafficker was tracked as the result of an 11-month operation that narrowed in on Beltran Leyva's associates and operations. He was maintaining a "discreet, low profile" to elude detection, Zeron said.
Known by the nom de guerre "El H," Beltran Leyva, 49, is thought to be the leader of a violent organization that has been fighting with other groups in Guerrero and Mexico state, a backdrop to a recent string of deadly attacks. His group is also behind much of the criminal penetration of police forces in those areas, authorities say.
The Beltran Leyva cartel, a crime syndicate run by a generation of brothers, was one of the top drug-trafficking organizations for years. Like many others, it started in the cradle of the Mexican drug trade, the state of Sinaloa, and both allied with and later rivaled the Sinaloa cartel, still considered Mexico's most important.
The organization suffered a stinging setback when senior brother Arturo Beltran Leyva was shot to death in a battle with Mexican naval special forces in December 2009. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration praised the elimination of the elder Beltran Leyva as "a crippling blow to one of the most violent cartels in the world."
Two other brothers have been imprisoned, and the cartel's share of the market has diminished amid power struggles and shifting alliances.
But U.S. and Mexican officials say the group has bounced back and is again gaining territory and transporting cocaine and other drugs to the U.S. and Europe.
More recently it has also branched out into extortion, contraband, kidnapping and other criminal enterprises, officials say. Zeron said the group was active in at least 10 states.
The U.S. government had offered a $5-million reward for Beltran Leyva's capture.
Earlier this year, the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto also captured Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, legendary head of the Sinaloa cartel and one of the world's most wanted fugitives. Several other key chieftans have also been taken down, but neither the flow of drugs nor the deadly violence has waned significantly.